Sir: I am getting tired of the sort of myth about history teaching you repeat in Joan Bakewell's article (6 July), complaining that history is "no longer compulsory" in schools. An inquiry to three of the colleagues at my school who were educated in the Sixties revealed that they had given up history at the ages of 12, 13, and 14.
When I trained as a teacher in the Seventies, the subject had lost its separate identity completely in some schools, and been absorbed into general humanities courses. At least some defined core of historical study - mostly but not exclusively British - is compulsory to the age of 14 now.
There is a sensible debate to be had over the balance between the optional and compulsory elements of education above the age of 14. As a history teacher I naturally think my subject should be in the latter category, but I wouldn't expect my colleagues in the geography department to feel any differently. I have read or heard passionate discussion about the neglect of the creative arts, physical education, and foreign languages. However there have to be some subjects in the optional category if the time and depth granted to each is to increase. The meagre time compulsorily allotted to religious studies is hardly enough to remedy this, and the implication that it could was a complete red herring.
The sensible - and informed - debate will continue in the education world. I wish it would in the media.
Sir: Joan Bakewell's article on the importance of history was excellent. When I was young, in the 1950s, we learned as much history from the books we read for entertainment as we ever did at school. Our reading was all about characters, from Robin Hood and Bonnie Prince Charlie to Hornblower and Biggles, who were rooted in specific periods. Romantic these books may have been, but they gave us a familiarity with past times, and our history teachers something to build on.
Today children seem to read mainly fantasy, set in a mythical past or a magical future. Their imaginative life is formed by Tolkien, Harry Potter, Batman, Spiderman. That is why they know no history. It will take more than a couple of hours of history a week, plus the occasional Braveheart, to rectify this.
Islam sees free women as harlots
Sir: A drunk woman, almost naked and wandering in the street at night is not "offensive" (letter, 10 July). I would certainly try and help such a poor soul. Nor is this how all free western women are expected to dress.
Your correspondent, writing in defence of the veiling of Muslim women, suggested that the plight of such a drunken woman was worse than being expected by an imaginary god to live in a bin bag. That is to miss the point. Western women have the freedom to choose to live their lives as they wish. They may dress as they wish and if they want to have a child out of marriage they can do so without this being a stoning offence. This is freedom.
I am tired of Muslims always suggesting that the only alternative to the bondage they impose on women is to be drunken, brawling or a harlot. It is about time the Islamic faith accepted that it really has to modernise its views of women. This is the only way forward. Does it really think that if women have freedom they will all turn into sad, drunken naked night-walkers? What sort of a religion is this?
DR JENNIFER POOLE
Sir: Deborah Orr's article (8 July) states that according to a feminist, "domestic violence is a permitted Islamic practice". This is most certainly not the case. As evidence, I refer to The Prophet Mohammed's (PBUH) words about women during his farewell address on Mount Arafat: "Treat them well and be kind to them."
Sir: Young people aren't allowed into some shopping centres wearing hoodies. No one is allowed into a bank wearing a crash helmet. A few weeks ago, a senior citizen was told to remove his hat in a pub, because the CCTV couldn't make out his face.
So there are many places where it is not permissible to cover your face. Unless you're a Muslim woman. I thought that the culture in this country tried to treat all people equally. If they insist on dressing in this manner they should go to a country where it is the normal convention.
Sir: If Muslims truly believe that no man can look at a woman without obsessing about sex, let their men wear blindfolds and be led round the streets by their children.
Constitution needed to guard our liberty
Sir: It is not correct to imply, as Steve Richards does in his column of 6 July, that the Serious and Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA) 2005 requires solely that the police must be informed in advance of any demonstration within a kilometre of Parliament Square.
It also requires authorisation from the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police for any demonstration to take place. Further, restrictions may be imposed on the time, duration, number of demonstrators, number and size of banners and placards and maximum noise levels. Failure to comply with these restrictions may result in imprisonment, and while it is true that a valid defence is to say that the failure to comply with these restrictions was due to events outside one's control, the Act requires the defendant to show this, thereby passing the burden of proof on to the accused.
I have always felt that an important part of our unwritten constitution has been the right to seek redress of grievance from our elected representatives. This Act has limited this right. It seems that our unwritten constitution is no longer a tradition we can rely on, and I feel that it is high time we replaced it with a written one.
OLDHAM, GREATER MANCHESTER
Sir: If, as I urgently hope, you have launched a critical debate over Blair's incremental instituting of what amounts to a police state, there is some irony in Matthew Norman's characteristically principled article on the issue sharing a page with a piece by John Denham (30 June). It is very hard not to read the latter as claiming for Parliament absolute rights over the judiciary.
To consider this in light of attacks on the presumption of innocence, the actuality of detention without trial, and the likelihood of being arrested for articulating opposition to the politics of the ruling party, is to be faced with a terrifying prospect for civil liberties, and for rights we should take for granted in general.
The justification for all this, that we are faced by a terrorist threat of a magnitude so unprecedented that, presumably, the Government refrains from publishing its details in consideration for our peace of mind, has to be dubious. The fact that Blair lied to take us into a war the consequences of which have been, as was predicted by people far wiser than him, catastrophic, explodes any claim he could ever make for the kind of omniscient wisdom to which he appears to pretend. The record of the intelligence services, whether with regard to weapons of mass destruction or terrorists in Forest Gate, cannot inspire confidence.
This government is doing dangerous and unprecedented things, and we appear to be sleepwalking into a police state. The most worrying thing is that with the honourable exception of a few individuals such as Bob Marshall-Andrews MP, there are no voices raised in effective opposition.
Sir: One does wonder why citizens are only now waking up to the implications of the Government's "anti-terror" laws. Not much cynicism is required to see that these measures were always likely to be used to suppress public dissent, something neither New Labour nor the Tories can abide.
Now Mr Brown is back on the bandwagon, demanding powers to detain anti-nuclear, anti-war, anti-bypass campaigners and the rest for 90 days without charge. And of course it's presented as being done to deal with crime and terrorism. They would say that wouldn't they?
Why isn't there more concern about Mr Brown's obvious desperation for power and control? Blair's behaviour is alarming enough but the man-who-wants-to-be looks worse.
B J FEARNLEY
The influence of a good home
Sir: Julia Doherty (letter, 10 July) is amazed to find that independent school pupils turn out as "all-round human beings who act in school plays, paint pictures, attend or take part in concerts and have knowledge of poetry, philosophy and ethics as well as rugby".
She shouldn't be. Independent schools impart educational values that reflect the values of the majority of parents sending their children to these schools - you give the paying customers what they want or they go elsewhere. If the majority of the 93 per cent of the population who send their children to state schools also espoused these values, they would be found in state schools as well.
Schools cannot swim against the tide of the prevailing cultural values of pupils' home life.
Debate about how aid money is spent
Sir: ActionAid and other agencies play a legitimate role in scrutinising government aid and proposing improvements. We want to see a growing aid budget but also for it to be used to best effect in the fight against poverty. If donors are held accountable, aid will be better spent, and the greater public support will be. So we are pleased to generate a debate on aid effectiveness, but Paul Vallely's criticisms of our report Real Aid 2 (Opinion, 6 July) are unfair.
Our report is serious and balanced, and does not exaggerate in an attempt to grab headlines. It is based on months of research and uses figures from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Britain's Department for International Development (DfID) and other donors. Compared to other donors, DfID comes out well in the report, but it is not perfect. We make suggestions for improvement.
We are not alone in questioning the effectiveness of spending aid money on international consultants and other forms of "technical assistance" such as research and training. The World Bank, UN and OECD have for decades asked whether this represents value for money. Neither does ActionAid claim that debt relief is "wasted". Instead, we have been part of the successful campaign to increase it and we argue that debt relief is a vital part of poverty reduction. But by counting debt relief as aid, donors are able to meet their headline aid targets without necessarily increasing real cash spending.
DIRECTOR, ACTIONAID UK LONDON N19
Sir: Paul Vallely accuses Christian Aid of confusing a balance of payments deficit with a financial loss when we explained that more money left Africa for the UK last year rather than the other way round. Not so. The financial loss arises from capital flight, which does not even feature in the balance of payments, but is a scandal which a parliamentary committee recently called "probably Africa's biggest financial problem". As we pointed out, unlike other outflows such as payments for imports, capital flight brings back no financial returns for African countries.
DR CLAIRE MELAMED
TRADE POLICY MANAGER CHRISTIAN AID, LONDON SE1
Sir: I enjoyed Paul Vallely's vigorous demolition of ActionAid's shoddy analysis of UK aid (6 July). Can I now look forward to reading an apologia for the article that preceded it ("How the money is wasted", 5 July)? To dredge up three hoary examples of wasted aid from 25 years ago devalues debate about a legitimate concern over the effectiveness of current efforts to aid Africa.
Proud to be academic
Sir: Your article on "10 Britons who shaped our world" (5 July) should have given pause for thought to those who glibly use the phrase "it's only academic". All those listed were either academics or had close links with universities.
Duty on plastic bags
Sir: Your report on the EU's anti-dumping investigation into plastic bags from Thailand and China (7 July) did not point out that the bags cost about half a penny to import. Most UK supermarkets give them away free. The proposed duty will add only about 0.05p to the cost of a bag. Even if retailers chose to pass on the duty, customers would have to buy 20 bags to pay 1 penny in additional duty. Exaggerated claims from retailers about the impact of such measures do not help to stimulate informed debate.
EU COMMISSIONER FOR TRADE BRUSSELS
No hugs for this hoodie
Sir: Returning from buying The Independent this morning I came within inches of being mown down on the pavement, by a hoodie hurtling at breakneck speed on his bike. As I was by a wall, there was no room to dodge. Leaning against it to recover I watched him continue on his way, swerving back and forth, deliberately targeting walkers. I'll not be hugging a hoodie ("Cameron: Britain must learn to love the hoodie", 10 July). I have something much more aggressive in mind.
The coolest of cars
Sir: What makes the Citroën 2CV the coolest of cars (letters, 4 and 6 July) is the timeless simplicity with which it achieves so much - wonderful suspension, ample head-room, roll-back roof, robust mechanical systems of heating, ventilation and window-opening with no electronics to go wrong. It goes a long way on little fuel at speeds sufficient for normal people, and it is as effective off-road as any 4x4. Citroën should bring it back.
P J STEWART
The origin of Prescott
Sir: Surely Mr Prescott's survival demonstrates perfectly the Darwinian idea (letter, 10 July). He is adapted precisely for the environment into which he fits. No Supreme Being need be invoked.
Sir: I note that Adrian Cruden (letter, 10 July) does not attempt to invoke Intelligent Design to explain the appearance of the DPM.
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